Hemingway App is a new program designed to help in the editing process. It let’s edit your text down to something lean, mean and easy to read. It lets you know when your sentences are getting difficult to read, when you’re using a complex phrase that could be worded more simply, when you’re using too many adverbs, and when you’re using the passive voice. It counts you words and your sentences, and gives you guideline targets for adverbs and passive voice.
It also gives you a readability grade. Lower is better. A score of Grade 5 literally means someone would need a Grade 5 education to get their head around what you wrote.
For a point of reference, I put some Jean Jacques Rousseau into Hemingway App. I loathed having to read Rousseau at university, and the app backed me up, giving Rousseau a Grade 19 (Poor) readability. It rated every sentence very hard to read.
For contrast, I popped in some lines from Earnest Hemingway’s short Hills Like White Elephants. As one would hope, he hit it out of the park.
Readability: Grade 1 (Good)
- 0 of 10 sentences are hard to read.
- 0 of 10 sentences are very hard to read.
- 0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
- 0 adverbs. Well done.
- 0 uses of passive voice.
Good on you, Mr. Hemingway. Apparently, you have quite the future ahead of you.
To see how I might fare, I put in one of my short stories and let the app analyze it.
Readability: Grade 5 (Good)
- 13 of 84 sentences are hard to read.
- 11 of 84 sentences are very hard to read.
- 2 phrases have simpler alternatives.
- 12 adverbs. Aim for 11 or fewer.
- 1 use of passive voice. Aim for 17 or fewer.
Clearly not as elegent as Mr. Hemingway. So I proceeded to use the app as an editor, letting it tell me where to whittle my prose down. In less than an hour, I got this score:
Readability: Grade 3 (Good)
- 0 of 114 sentences are hard to read.
- 0 of 114 sentences are very hard to read.
- 0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
- 9 adverbs. Aim for 11 or fewer.
- 0 uses of passive voice.
My sentences still ramble for a bit, but I’ve got the readability down from Grade 5 to Grade 3.
Is it actually better? I think maybe it is. I have a tendency to ramble on, and use too many subordinate clauses, as the unedited text I bashed out for this review will bear witness to.
But let’s let you be the judge. Below is the updated version of my story Grasshopper, Ant. Better? Let me know what your thoughts are on Hemingway App in the comments below.
Once upon time, Clive reveled in the warm spring air. He frolicked about, dancing and singing. He praised nature in all its glory as he hopped from leaf to leaf, eating to his heart’s content. He was grateful indeed for his powerful hind legs.
Clive was the living embodiment of living in the now. He wasted no thoughts dwelling on the past, nor did he worry about the future. The only things that mattered to him were what he could see with his own eyes in the here and now. Things like sunshine and daisies and dewdrops. That was what mattered to him. And jumping. Jumping high. Jumping far. Getting a bird’s eye view of the grass all around him so he could find all the best places to eat.
One glorious spring day Clive came across another bug crawling along on the ground. It was smaller and darker than he was. It had pathetically short legs that would have made jumping nigh impossible. Yet Clive was a curious sort, so he hopped on over and introduced himself.
“Hi there,” said Clive as he landed abruptly in the other bug’s path. “I’m Clive. What’s your name, friend?”
“Bloody h***!” said the smaller bug.
“That’s an odd name,” said Clive. “But I’ve learned to celebrate differences and revel in the diversity of creation. Hi there, Bloody H***!”
“Isn’t that nice,” said the smaller bug. “Look, my name’s not Bloody H***. That was an interjection blurted out in surprise. You scared the bejesus out of me, jumping out of nowhere like that. You can call me Rodney, if you like.”
“Hi Rodney! I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re not a grasshopper.”
“That’s right, Clive. I’m an ant, from the anthill on the other side of that tree.”
“Uh huh. Uh huh. And what are you doing? Got time to play?”
“Sorry, Clive,” said the ant, “but I’m gathering food all day today. Winter is coming. I’ve got to do my bit to make sure everyone in my colony has enough to eat so we make it through to next spring. My queen always says, ‘Winter is hard, but you’ve got to get through it. A bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.’”
The ant was truly sorry. He would give anything to kick up his heels, unwind, and chat with the grasshopper. But he realized all his ant friends and relations were still plugging away at it. Foraging like the dickens. Starting to make him look bad.
“Perhaps some other time,” said Clive, ever the optimist.
“Stranger things have happened,” said Rodney noncommittally.
Spring segued into glorious summer, and the bug’s paths crossed yet again.
“Rodney, right?” asked Clive, as he lay on his back on the petals of an open flower.
“That’s right, Clive.” Rodney marched around a tree carrying a seed over his head. “What are you up to today, buddy?”
“Sunbathing,” said Clive. “Though I’m getting rather bored of it. I think I’d much rather be singing. Or dancing. Mind you, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, or perhaps a screenplay. It’s about a cop who solves mysteries in her spare time. Perhaps I should make a start on that. Unless of course you’d maybe like to jump and play together.”
“I appreciate the invitation, mack,” said Rodney, “I really do. But the queen’s upped the foraging quota this week. I’ll be busting my ass till sundown at least.”
“Maybe another day,” said the grasshopper.
Rodney felt guilty about getting his friend’s hopes up. He knew his commitments would never allow this relationship to become anything more.
“Listen, mack,” said Rodney.
“It’s Clive, actually.”
“Yeah. Listen. You might want to think about gathering some stuff for yourself sooner than later. Remember? ‘Winter is hard, but you’ve got to get through it. A bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.’”
Clive pondered this nugget of wisdom for a millisecond. “I wonder what’s happening in Milan right now,” he blurted out. “Or Paris. Haven’t you always wanted to bound merrily down the Champs-Élysées?”
But Rodney had already shuffled off out of earshot, his prized seed held high.
The sun-filled delight of summer soon turned into a cold and rainy autumn. A cold, miserable winter followed quickly. The ants stayed in their anthill, for snow blanketed the outside world. They had all the food they needed to get through until spring.
One day, though, just before Christmas, Rodney got a message. There was someone at the front door to see him. When he got there, he saw his friend the grasshopper. Clive looked chilled to the bone, and emaciated from weeks of going hungry.
“What’s become of my glorious grasshopper friend?” said Rodney. “You used to have it all. How I envied your carefree life of leisure.”
“I was reckless,” said Clive. “Please forgive me, my dearest friend, but I never heeded your words of wisdom. Had I paid attention to your guidance, I might not be in such a miserable state. I might have something to eat besides endless fields of snow as far as the eye can see. I miss the juicy blades of baby grass. The leaves of the mighty oak. The stately oats that grow in the fields over the hill. What I wouldn’t give, dear friend-”
But we’ll never know what he wouldn’t give. At that moment, Rodney’s friends and relations poured out of the anthill. They swarmed all over the grasshopper, ripping him limb from limb. They carrying the severed chunks of grasshopper down to their queen below.
Rodney picked up his friend’s disembodied head. The antennae still twitching. Eyelids still blinking. Mandibles soundlessly asking Why? He said, “Listen, mack, I tried to tell you. Winter is hard, and I’m sorry you blew it, but a bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.”